THE MYSTIC TRUMPETER (1999)
The Indiana University Concert Orchestra
David Effron, Conductor
1. The Dalliance of the Eagles [1:16]
2. The Mystic Trumpeter [11:15]
THE MYSTIC TRUMPETER provides musical commentary on two poems by Walt Whitman: "The Dalliance of the Eagles" and " The Mystic Trumpeter." The work is an outgrowth of FLIGHTS OF PASSAGE, a solo composition I wrote for the marvelous pianist, James Dick. It was Mr. Dick who suggested several poems from Whitman's LEAVES OF GRASS as the literary bases for that piece. THE MYSTIC TRUMPETER expands the penultimate and closing movements of the earlier keyboard work in a setting for full orchestra.
The composition is cast as a single movement consisting of two unequal sections, each inspired by Whitman's verses. The first, a musical evocation of "The Dalliance of the Eagles," can be viewed as an introduction to and integral facet of the second (and main) portion of the work, joining it without pause. The poem itself provides the best description of the music, for this opening section, this "gyrating wheel" of orchestral sound, constitutes a clear and obvious example of "tone-painting."
The music of the second section, which treats the long poem "The Mystic Trumpeter," is a collage of sorts, incorporating quotations (some distorted, some literal) from four existing works: Charles Ives' short tone poem, THE UNANSWERED QUESTION; the sprawling piano piece VINGT REGARDS SUR L'ENFANT JÉSUS ("Twenty Meditations on the Child Jesus") by the late French composer, Olivier Messiaen; MUSIC FOR THE MAGIC THEATRE by the contemporary American, George Rochberg; and REIS GLORIOS ("Glorious King"), a song by the medieval troubadour, Guiraut de Bornelh. Each of these quoted compositions entails distinct parallels, either musical or literary, with Whitman's poem. Ives' THE UNANSWERED QUESTION also imagines a kind of mystic trumpeter, for it is a trumpet that repeatedly poses "the Perennial Question of Existence" in that composition's programmatic scenario. Rochberg's work evokes the "Magic Theater" of Hermann Hesse's STEPPENWOLF (a novel that includes the line, "I saw Moses, whose hair recalled portraits of Walt Whitman"), in which music seems a universal presence, inherent in all life and nature and even memory, as it is in Whitman's poem.
Whitman's invocation of love and joy (in the fifth and eighth stanzas, respectively, of "The Mystic Trumpeter") resonates with Messiaen's vision of divine love in the last of the VINGT REGARDS. Whitman's phrases, "no other theme but love... the enclosing theme of all, " have a musical complement in the "Thème d'amour" ("Love Theme") of Messiaen's piece, and the utopian vision of a humanity redeemed and joyful that is set forth in the final stanza of the poem finds kindred expression in Messiaen's "Triomphe d'amour et de joie" ("Triumph of Love and Joy"). The citations of these fragments from VINGT REGARDS SUR L'ENFANT JÉSUS in my own work are particularly appropriate in light of Whitman's view of himself as the "American Jesus" and the prophet of a new "American religion."
Less oblique, perhaps, than the aforementioned references is the appearance of an actual troubadour melody underscoring in a very concrete way Whitman's vision of medieval splendor in the fourth stanza of his poem. The text of this song by de Bornelh is a prayer beseeching God to guide the poet's companion safely home -- a beautiful metaphor for Whitman's life and work.
Click here for link to the poems.